The following will be familiar to investors in biotech, energy tech, and other pre-product research-stage companies. Canadian fuel cell developer Ballard Power
In this particular case, Ballard announced that it will be cutting 100 of its 600 positions, with some 50 or so already having been cut through attrition and hiring freezes. In addition to the money saved from jettisoning employees, the company is going to reduce discretionary spending with an eye toward cutting about 12% of its operating expenses. Management happened to also mention discussions with the Indian and Chinese governments -- an inclusion that I feel has more to do with jazzing up retail investors than suggesting any real business prospects.
Well, management certainly needed to do something. The company has been burning cash from Day One and would seem to have something on the order of 10 to 12 quarters' worth left on the balance sheet. What's more, it has given away a lot already through a deal with Japanese partner EBARA and a restructuring of its arrangement with Ford
It's really hard to say whether this latest move will really help much. I'm quite sure that Ballard kept its best science and engineering folks around, but I've seen what layoffs and belt-tightening can do to companies. More often than not, morale sinks and high-quality employees begin spending more time at work emailing resumes instead of working on their projects.
While the stock has dropped about 96% from its high, it has bounced in the last four months as investors have reacted to the new energy bill and the seemingly unending rise in gasoline prices. Here's the problem, though: The company likely needs to produce about 500,000 units a year to be competitive with gasoline engines, and that could take as long as 20 years to achieve. It seems inevitable, then, that the company is going to have to do a pretty dilutive financing event to raise enough capital to make it through to a marketable product.
At this point, I still wouldn't bet with this team. There are so many other ways to play energy technology angles. And with Energy Conversion Devices
For more alternative energy Takes, see:
- Joke's on You With Hoku
- An Alternative Energy Triple Play
- Will Congress Boost Ballard?
- Toyota's Hydrogen Prediction
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson owns shares of Headwaters.